Threats Hidden in the Moral of the StoryThe human mind is always searching for meaning in the world. It’s one of the reasons we love stories so much: they give meaning to what might otherwise be a random series of events.

From stories emerge characters, context, hopes and dreams, morals even. Using simple structures, stories can communicate complex ideas about the author’s view of the world and how it works, often without the reader’s knowledge.

Two simple stories that illustrate quite different ways of thinking about the world were used in new research published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. The authors wanted to explore how we react to ideas and narratives that contradict our view of the world (Proulx et al., 2010).

13 Comments to
Threats Hidden in the Moral of the Story

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  1. Is most of America becoming anti-establishment because of the illegal immigrants and the possible building of a mosque near the twin tower spot? There is without a doubt a huge backlash against the establishment for not fullfilling their parts in the play. My self, I believe it is working against the establishment because we are growing more and more disallusioned with their mediocre performance of their duties….

  2. Shame there’s no “retweet this” button :}

    - Bob

  3. Could you suggest way(s) to offset or otherwise counteract the psychological force you mention in the final paragraph?


    - Bob

  4. I think the “we” mentioned in the last paragraph is too broad. As with most studies, conclusions are based on statistical probabilities, leaving out individual differences…there’s a whole spectrum of response to the unfamiliar or ambiguous, and my guess is that where one is on that spectrum has to do with the degree of safety and trust our original world provided.

  5. These were worthy pondering deeper indeed. Yes, yes and yes were coming out of the heart while reading your article. My horizons were expanded and the hot Thank you concluded the reading. Your article awakened the thoughts and thus rewarded me greatly.

  6. I’m wondering if they checked this across a range of ages and political views.
    My own experience is that when I was younger, I would have been more receptive to The Tortoise and the Hare. But I am one of the people who has seen a lot of injustice inherent in life as I have aged, and as a result have become more liberal. I’ve too often seen scenarios where people trying their hardest could never have a comfortable life. Ergo, from the short description, Kafka’s piece would be more like the way I see the world as being, and Aesop’s story is more the sort of thing that eventually shames people who are dealing with disabilities and can’t be “steady”.

    So, unless it is a reaction to absrudism in the story rather than a reaction to a threat to their worldview, I think people with chronic disorders, hard life experience, etc, might respond differently in terms of which story fits their actual perceptions of reality.

  7. Bob Marshall above wonders if anyone could “suggest way(s) to offset or otherwise counteract the psychological force” mentioned in the final paragraph of the article.

    I think the answer is probably “No”. We humans seem to operate under the Newtonian principle of inertia. Once we set off on a particular trajectory it requires a massive “force” to get us to change direction. Freudians would probably see this as a kind of fixation, Gestaltists as an inability to “let go” of the past. Abandoning our familiar worldview simply even to **consider** another one can represent a huge threat to one’s personality.

  8. What about unethical intelligence agencies, who “write” real live stories on a large scale all the time? The red ones consider themselves to be the brothers Duke in “Trading Places”…

  9. That is a rather simplistic way to interpret the Kafka piece. Tho all in all the interpretation of the two studies is probably fairly decent, I have to agree with those that criticised the first; the Kafka was not a fair measure, it can mean too many things, and is far too challenging (compared with the Aesop tale we are all overly familiar with!)

  10. I find this all a bit bewildering. I can’t help but wonder if the writers actually know what they are saying, or are just enjoying far out thoughts and impressing us with their vocabulary. Maybe I’m a tortoise, but a couple of these were just that, all vocabulary and darned little meaning. Just 2cents from an old woman.
    Reminds me, when a child, after the book was read to me, I had horrible nightmares of a huge mean tortoise chasing me. I had gathered from the book’s art work that the tortoise was big and dangerous. Then I saw a real box turtle a friend had, and played with it. End of bad dreams. Which means nothing except that a child, without our knowing, can aquire very warped perceptions from fanciful and thoughtless illustrations.

  11. Interesting. But terming the tendency to become defensive about one’s unexamined beliefs an affirmation of justice strikes me as off the mark. A deeper understanding of justice – and the willingness to accept a threatening world view as legitimate – seeems more to be in line with a commitment to the concept of justice. Seeing people failing to secure a reward for their efforts – or even being penalized for their efforts – may strike people as “unfair” which is sort of a babystep on the way to a greater understanding of the notion.

    Seeking structure and “law and order” can also be interpreted NOT as return to values; but as becoming more rigid in response to threats to our selfimage, lifestyle, etc…

    At any rate, thought- provoking, but that use of “justice” strikes me as being less than rigorous thinking.

  12. The advertizing industry is a good example of pandering to one’s world view. Hidden messages are contained in products advertized which persuade in accordance with what a person desires, and believes. Myths are created to make you more acceptable, more desirable, more apt to buy a product. All manner of things are promised in the simple act of buying something.

  13. When people are challenged because of the roles they play in society, they will augment the meaning of these roles of they possibly can, that is when their roles are salient and are not conflicting. When Jewish girls (Jewish and female: two roles not conflicting with one another) had their blood pressure measured, they withstood more pain from the band around their upper arms when the doctor/experimenter “happened to” mention that it appeared that Jewish- could stand less pain than Christian people.
    (Sorry, don’t know experimenter’s name. Long ago our professor, C. Boekestijn, mentioned this experiment.)

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